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Two counties take smaller hits in manufacturing

Sat., March 7, 2009, midnight

While the nation has lost more than 750,000 manufacturing jobs since last summer, Spokane County and Kootenai County are faring slightly better.

Both counties have endured large losses in the manufacturing sector, but the number of manufacturing jobs should stabilize and possibly grow in coming months thanks to the federal stimulus package, area economists say.

Over the past year, Spokane County has lost 900 manufacturing jobs, out of a total work force of about 212,000. Kootenai County lost about 360 manufacturing jobs in the same period out of a work force of roughly 71,400.

Nearly half of the jobs eliminated in Idaho were with wood products companies, said Kathryn Tacke, regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor. With the falloff in housing construction, North Idaho mills and wood products firms couldn’t avoid layoffs, she said.

Doug Tweedy, regional labor economist for the Washington Employment Security Department, said manufacturing in Spokane is “a very mixed bag.” There was “some uplift” in three manufacturing subsectors and downturns in others, he said.

Tweedy said plastics, chemicals and metal fabrication have shown modest job growth. The latter industry in particular will likely get an extra bump once the stimulus package and its emphasis on energy-efficient construction take hold, he said.

“We’re not doing as bad as the national manufacturing sector because our manufacturers are diverse,” Tweedy said.

The majority of the 900 lost manufacturing jobs in Spokane were from companies involved in home furnishings and home supplies, Tweedy said. “That includes makers of doors and windows” and other home products such as cabinets, he said.

The steadily growing north Spokane pharmaceutical manufacturer HollisterStier Laboratories bucked the trend. The company added about 25 manufacturing jobs in the past year as work orders continued to increase, said human relations director Kirk Wood-Gaines. HollisterStier’s head count is over 540, he said.

But the growth might not continue, Wood-Gaines said. “For the coming year we would probably expect slow, controlled growth of maybe zero to 5 percent from what we have,” he said.

Tacke, who’s based in Coeur d’Alene, said North Idaho’s manufacturing companies in recent years have been a beacon of growth at a time when the national manufacturing sector has done poorly.

Since 2000 the U.S. has lost close to 3.4 million manufacturing jobs while Kootenai County has gained about 600, she said.

That growth is clearly being slammed into reverse by the harsh economic conditions, Tacke said.

“It’s a testament to the severity of the widespread economic crisis that we’re being hit by it the way we are,” said Tacke. “During the past two big downturns (in 1991-’92 and in 2001), we really didn’t feel the same level of impact” being felt in the regional economy now, she said.

Contact Tom Sowa at (509) 459-5492 or

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